Lecture 2. Buddhism and Beyond

This lecture introduces Buddhism in general, then follows it to Sri Lanka where it became a state religion in the 3rd century BCE. While Buddhism began to disappear in India, it flourished in Sri Lanka where its new elites created Anuradhapura into a major Buddhist ritual center. The new India-derived elites were drawn to Sri Lanka for obvious reasons. It was rich in pearls and rubies, that were mined in forest streams - basically a place of easy wealth. These luxury goods played a key part in the Silk Route. But the story is not just about religion and wealth. The Sri Lanka elites redesigned the landscape of the northern part of the island – where rice farming was possible, unlike the mountainous south - and transformed an arid area into a rice-producing economy. This began around 200 BCE if not a bit earlier. They created vast man-made lakes associated with miles of canals and water distribution centers. It was probably one of the most impressive effort of that nature outside of China at that time anywhere in the world. By the 5th century, when Europe was in decline, Anuradhapura, by way of contrast, was one of the most important cities in the world. This combination of hydro-engineering and religion was to become the hallmark of SE Asian world view. There can be no doubt that the Sri Lankans perfected this combination and used it as part of their influence to SE Asia.


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